Gangs of London Q&A — Co-Creator Gareth Evans Reveals How the "High Octane" Series Is Based in Reality
Gangs of London co-creator and director, Gareth Evans, is an action film legend renowned for his work on The Raid franchise and more. In this chat with amc.com, he discusses crafting a dynamic family drama and subverting audience expectations, how much of Gangs of London can be traced to true stories, and that one time he came hilariously close to London's criminal underbelly.
Q: At the heart of the show is this almost Shakespearean core of family drama, and many shifting themes around family. How did you and the creative team approach crafting these interweaving stories and the shifting dynamics in the families and between the families?
A: I've known Matt Flannery, the co-creator, since university. This is the first time we got to collaborate on writing. When we got together and started discussing the idea of the show, one thing that became apparent very early on was we had a longform narrative that was going to take over ten hours of storyline. We knew it was going to be high octane and operatic in terms of the action beats, and the things that I'm kind of known for.
We knew that rudimentary genre elements wouldn't sustain themselves over a ten-hour period. We knew we needed something that would be the meat of the thing, the heart and soul of the show to drive the story forward. We needed people to really, really care beyond gangsters doing gangster things. We wanted to have universal themes, so people like myself [laughs] who live outside of a life of crime can still relate—that ended up being the family element. So that was the way in.
Whether it was through the Wallaces and the Dumanis, Luan or Lale, or all of the other various characters that populate the world of the show, we wanted to understand what their family background was. Who is close to them? What are their relationships like? How could those relationships be strained? In a drama, you're always looking for things to create conflict with.
So Matt and I started by creating a family tree, and that's the first thing we did for every organization. We were figuring, "Okay, these are the Wallaces, these are the Dumanis, this is how they got to know each other, this is the shared history between the families, and this is what they deal in — the fundamentals of what their import-export is. Okay, now let's look at Luan and his family tree and his organization, what does he deal in?"
We also started looking at who would be competing with whom across the landscape of the gang world side of things. Where are their weak points? What are their Achilles' heels? Nine times out of ten, the Achilles' heel is the family. It's looking at who they care about, what they have a proclivity for, and what could get them into all sorts of trouble and mischief — which there's plenty of across the course of the show. So identifying those things was the first major step. No matter how big, bold, and operatic we wanted to be with some of the larger plot points that run across the show, they would be grounded in the foundation of family. We would build on the relationships that we had fully fleshed out and understood beforehand, so we knew how everyone was going to react when everything started to kick off.
A: I think one of the things we really wanted to do was present a version of London that is slightly skewed—it's not an actual representation of London. In the very first opening shot, as we troll over the whole cityscape into someone's POV, we start off completely upside-down. Obviously that becomes apparent why when you land on the POV of somebody hanging upside-down off the side of a building, [laughs] but it was also a letter of intent. It's an opening shot that says, "This is London, but not as you know it."
That shot was entirely fabricated in visual effects by an amazing company called Dupe in London. One of the key things I said to them was: "Show me London as it is according to its geographical positioning of things — this is where the river is and this is where East London is, this is where all the bells and whistles are — but take out all the tourist landmarks. I don't want to see Big Ben, I don't want to see the Houses of Parliament, I don't want to see any of those things that are in the landscape of London." For people who know the city and know to look for those touristy things, they won't find them, because our story doesn't take place in that London. It doesn't take place in the tourist version of London, it takes place in our criminal underbelly of London.
The idea of this other London was something that Matt and I found in our research. We discussed crime in London with investigative journalists, former criminals who've reformed themselves, former undercover police officers. They took us around the city, and we had a really eye opening moment. We were just standing on a city street like we normally would, not really paying attention, and suddenly [the informant] said, "See that building over there?" It was kind a money transfer place. He said, "A lot of money gets washed through places like those." And this will sound like I'm making it up, but I promise you it happened — as he was saying that, a car full of plain-clothes cops turned up and raided the place! While we were literally standing down the street. And me and Matt were like, "Did you— did you know this was going to happen?"
Q: Speaking of true stories, I saw episode director Corin Hardy mention in an interview that the "Narco-Cow" in Episode 4 was based on a true story. What other elements of Gangs of London are based in reality?
A: I read a story online somewhere about people transporting drugs in the stomach of cows—that's how they were transporting drugs through different parts of Europe. I just remember thinking, "What if we did a heist on a truck full of cows that happen to have tons of drugs in them?" [Laughs] I must have eaten a lot of cheese the night before or something, or maybe I dreamt it. But I remember thinking, "Well that would be really unusual."
When Matt and I would look at news items, we'd think, "How can we come at this from the left?" How can we take a news story that's straight down the line serious, and turn it into something quite weird and cinematic. So that was the remit over the course of the entire show: pull from the headlines, pull from news items, pull from things that start off with a foundation of reality — like what we were saying before about the foundation of family. We found these things that had a foundation of reality, and then heightened them—you can do that and they will still feel believable.
Q: Gangs of London marks your first foray into television, and yet the show seems so singularly cinematic at every level. Why was it important for you to bring that element of "cinematic" quality to a TV show, and how did you go about doing it?
A: It's a weird thing. I think to be honest, it came from a lack of experience on my part. [Laughs] I know it sounds like a strange thing to say, but when Matt and I first started setting out to make the show, we knew we were going to have to cut our cloth slightly differently from the way we would do so for a film. But every time we would be shot-listing and designing sequences together, we had all these little reflexes from when we'd be making films. In the early stages, as much as we tried to pull back and tell ourselves, "You know look, this is TV here, it's a tighter budget, it's a tighter schedule, we're not going to get as much done as we would on a film," we couldn't shake off that feeling of, "But this way feels intrinsically right. It feels like the way we were working should be the way the story gets told."
Then that turned into, "Well, maybe we can do this," and we kept pushing. By bringing on amazing directors like Corin [Hardy] and Xavier [Gens], and our amazing DPs like Martijn [van Broekhuizen] and Laurent [Barès], we were able to have this continuation of a visual theme and a visual approach to the show, that allowed us to say, "This can be done. We can aim high in production value." There were enough examples out there already that proved that that was the case. I've watched so many shows where I've been blown away. That disparity between TV and film just doesn't exist anymore. The gap has closed in so tightly thanks to all of the creators who have come before us, so we were able to feel empowered to aim that high and be that cinematic.
Q: You're a legend in the action film genre. What attracts you to the genre in the first place? What do you think action can do that other genres can't?
A: I don't know if it's something that it can do that others can't, but it's just that for me, it's become something that I find — it sounds weird talking about my own approach within the genre — but I just feel really natural and comfortable in it as a genre. The way I can express myself within those sequences feels quite inherently natural to me.
I love an action sequence that's not just purely about the rollercoaster of it, but a sequence that allows the storytelling to come through. Coming out the end of an action sequence and realizing a part of that world is changed now as a result of it, or we've got a glimpse into a character and that's a pivotal moment in that character's journey. We really try to pepper character beats throughout every action sequence.
Q: Both you and Corin Hardy have significant experience in horror as well. Would you say you intentionally brought some elements of horror into the series?
A: Yeah! [Laughs] I remember saying to the guys that the show should straddle numerous genres. We should not be afraid of making things play like horror at times, and we should play in every genre that we feel comfortable in. The fight against Len, the butcher with the meat cleaver in Episode  — that's horror, just pure horror. And it's a slower fight, as well, it's not like the pub fight [in Episode 1]. It's a slow, slasher-movie-style approach to the choreography and the presentation of it.
When we design these sequences, we're in a brightly-lit room with cardboard boxes and crash mats everywhere... then suddenly the stunt team is on set at this horrible looking location with graffiti on the walls and bloodstains on the floor. There's the kid in the bathtub, and it's just horrendous and horrible. They were like, "This is a whole other level to what we designed." When the tone, visuals, and everything come together it feels quite impressive. In terms of the horror stuff, I think Xavier probably took the mantle when it came to Episode . I'm usually okay with anything as long as it's fictional, but there was an early cut of Episode  that even I was like, "Oof, I'm not looking at that."
Q: With the series airing now on AMC, the show will find a new, even wider audience than it already has — what are you excited for new fans to experience for the first time?
A: The selfish answer is the siege on the farmhouse [in Episode 6]. I think it's probably one of my favorite things I've done so far. On a personal pride level, it was the one episode I got to bring back to my home country of Wales, and I got to make it with a bunch of people I've worked with before, so I was just all in. That was a really great experience. I think we went a bit nuts on that one! And I hope people respond well to it.
Gangs of London premieres Sunday, April 4 at 10/9c on AMC. Check out the full schedule here.
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